Predicted changes in temperatures and precipitation regimes that lead to reduced water levels and vegetation changes in the Middle Rio Grande Bosque will likely impact the area’s animal species over time. This key finding and others related to impacts of climate change were recently released in a study titled “Vulnerability of species to climate change in the Southwest: terrestrial species of the Middle Rio Grande.”
Scientists from the USDA Forest Service used a scoring system to assess the vulnerability of 117 species to altered timing of weather events and river flow as a result of expected climate changes. The assessment indicates that changes in water availability will put riparian species such as amphibians and some birds and reptiles that are dependent on wet habitat, at an increased risk of survival. Decreases in the availability of riparian habitat as a result of changes in climate will also indirectly affect many other birds and mammals, as well as species already at the southern limit of their habitat range. However, where most riparian species in the area will experience negative effects from the loss of habitat, this study also showed evidence that a few generalist species such as coyotes, jack rabbits, some lizards, and also road runners may benefit from the conversion of riparian habitat into more sparsely vegetated drier sites.
This assessment points to several key issues relating to future habitat changes and individual species ability to survive in the Middle Rio Grande Bosque, which runs north and south through the middle of New Mexico. Findings from the study provide wildlife managers with options and alternatives for climate change adaptation including: landscape-scale approaches, consideration of future land-use scenarios, and increased understanding of the consequences of species’ interactions.